Kelsey Parrasch, a fourth-grade teacher in Edgewater, New Jersey, still remembers the fun of choosing a title from Scholastic Book Clubs as a child, the anticipation of waiting for the package to arrive, and the thrill of finally holding the crisp, new book in her hands.
“I loved seeing that box full of books arrive in my teacher’s classroom,” Parrasch recalls. “It still gives me that same excitement—maybe even more, now that I’m sharing it with my students. It’s that excitement of knowing these books are going to transport you to a whole other place.”
Children and teachers have been building their reading skills and classroom libraries with Scholastic Book Clubs for decades. But while many teachers have fond memories of the program from their time as students, some might not realize how they can best use it today.
“Clubs offers teachers the opportunity to get free books and other resources for their classroom,” notes Stella Castilla, assistant director of Scholastic’s Book Clubs Ambassador program and a former elementary school teacher. “Often, teachers don’t understand what the program is, how it’s changed over the years, and how they can benefit from it.”
Want to find out how to get the most out of Book Clubs, including bonus points, author visits, and more? Read on for fellow teachers’ top tips!
1 | Jazz Up Those Letters Home
From Picture Day forms to field trip permission slips, parents have to slog through a lot of paper in their kids’ take-home folders. A cover letter with some key bulleted points stands out and can help get parents on board with Book Clubs; there’s even a template, in multiple languages, available online. (If you haven’t already done it, set up your teacher account at clubs.scholastic.com. It takes two minutes, and the letter template will be waiting for you in the Teacher’s Desk tab!)
Stacey Riedmiller, a fourth-grade teacher in Reading, Ohio, and a blogger at Literacy for Big Kids, says that she has added hundreds of free books to her classroom library through Book Clubs. Her suggestion of information to include in a letter home: your class online activation code (also found at the Teacher’s Desk tab), monthly book suggestions, a wish list section for kids to fill out, and the Book Clubs’ website address. She also suggests noting the number of free books from previous orders: “This helps parents see that their money supports the class in a big way!” And she and others say that when putting together your letter, you should punch it up with bright colors and graphics to help it stand out.
Finally, consider briefly talking to parents during Back to School Night about how Book Clubs can help their kids—and the classroom.
2 | Hunt for Deals and Vie for Prizes
Subscribers to the Book Clubs blog (Judy Newman at Scholastic) get an early peek at “Dollar Deal” books, available for a buck apiece. Recent $1 selections include The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure!
Teachers say that the $1 books—and the abundance of titles under $5—help give every student the chance to buy an affordable book.
Lauren Hepworth, a third-grade teacher in Palm Beach County, Florida, buys a coupon booklet, available at the beginning of the year, and then distributes free-book coupons to students for prizes and as holiday gifts.
“It only costs me a little over a dollar for each kid to have a $5 book,” she says.
Subscribers to the Book Clubs blog also have the chance to win prizes, including classroom visits from authors. Past visiting authors include Eric Litwin (Pete the Cat books) and Kate DiCamillo!
3 | Go Digital for Your Sake, and for Parents!
Don’t want to handle cash or hassle with checks? Have parents use your classroom code to order directly from the Book Clubs website. “The online ordering makes it easy,” says Heather Randazzo, a first-grade teacher in Parkland, Florida. “Plus, when they go online, parents can search for any book they want! They’re not limited to what’s in the catalog.” You can even leave an online note for parents, or add books to a classroom wish list.
Since it’s gone digital, the program has become simpler. Years ago, says Lynnette Lev, a second-grade teacher in Austin, Texas, she had to keep copies of the completed paper order forms, and then match them up with the delivered titles to figure out who ordered what (veteran teachers will remember this). Thankfully, it’s simple to place orders online, and the books arrive with information about which student ordered them. “I don’t know how much easier it could be!” says Lev.
4 | Send Home Multiple Catalogs
Hepworth advises teachers to send home multiple fliers at once—one for the grade level they teach, one for a higher or lower grade level (or both), and a specialty flier—to give kids as many options as possible.
“I usually send out three catalogs, so that I know I’m hitting everyone’s price point and everyone’s interests,” she says.
Teachers can always request additional sets of catalogs on the Book Clubs teacher portal. In addition to the grade-level ones, special catalogs tie into trends, hot series, or popular curriculum topics. Club Leo catalogs feature books in Spanish, and the We Need Diverse Books catalogs highlight books with characters from many backgrounds.
5 | Build Up Your Library—and More!
When you and your students order from Scholastic Book Clubs, you’ll receive bonus points that can be used to buy new titles for your classroom library. Some teachers like to use the points for special items, such as audio books for listening centers—or save them up for big-ticket purchases like wobble stools and beanbag chairs.
“I’ve bought books with my own money, and then used my teacher points to build up my library even more,” says Amy Gorzkowski, a seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher and literacy coach in Berwyn, Illinois. “I’ll intentionally build up sections that are weak, or if there are new and upcoming authors that I can incorporate, I lean toward those.”
Be sure to look out for special promotions that let you earn points more quickly. Last year, for instance, teachers who placed three monthly orders of at least $50 before January received 1,000 extra bonus points!
6 | If You Enjoyed This Book, Try…
Don’t be afraid to make recommendations to kids and parents about which books they might enjoy. Wandiza Williams, a fifth-grade teacher in the Bronx, New York, picks a “Book of the Month” in her class. Some months, she says, up to one third of her students end up ordering the selection. Teachers can even recommend books to their class via the online Book Clubs portal.
Hepworth tries to steer students toward books that are on their independent reading level. “I want to make sure kids have texts that are accessible to them,” she says.
7 | Consistency Reaps Rewards
On average, teachers who participate in Book Clubs place orders about four or five times per year. But when they send Book Clubs fliers home each month—instead of only occasionally—the program becomes an expected part of the classroom routine. Not every kid will place an order every month, and that’s okay.
“I think it’s good to send the flier every month, because it gives everybody multiple opportunities,” says Williams.
She admits that she does skip the month when her school holds its Scholastic Book Fair, which serves as a school-wide fundraiser. “You can’t compete with the Book Fair,” she says.
8 | Let Kids Browse While in Class
Lev doesn’t make kids wait until they get home to start scouring their Book Clubs fliers. “I pass out the book order forms in class, and they start talking in groups,” she says. “I set them loose. They start circling books they want, and you hear them shout out about what they’re going to order.”
“I have some kids who never buy from the catalog, but they just love looking through it,” says Parrasch. “I’ll ask those kids, ‘What books would you like to read?’ And then I’ll try to get those books for the classroom. It shows me what the kids are interested in, and it lets them share their love of books with their classmates.”
Some teachers even have kids write their suggestions on the board, giving them a quick and convenient way to see what types of books their students are most excited by.
9 | Inspire Lifelong Readers
Book Clubs orders are a way to help students see reading not as a “chore” or “schoolwork,” but as a fun event. Lev periodically raffles off extra books she has ordered, creating an air of excitement. And students sometimes skip buying ice cream at lunchtime to afford their own purchases. “You have kids who save their money, and they bring me their nickels and dimes and pennies, and they’re so excited to buy a book themselves,” she says.
Williams says that students who were reluctant readers at the beginning of the school year end up flocking to the Book Clubs box when it arrives later in the year—eager to receive their selections and take them home to read. “We all want our students to be better readers,” she says. “That’s what we’re here to do.”
10 | Go for Gold!
Teachers whose classes spend at least $250 a year with Book Clubs become Green Apple teachers. At the $500 mark, they’re upgraded to Red Apple. And those who reach $1,000 or more are designated Golden Apple teachers.
Each level comes with an escalating set of benefits. Golden Apple teachers receive 500 extra bonus points on their birthday, 100 extra bonus points for every order of $25 or more, free shipping, surprise gifts, and other benefits.
Maria Camastro, a kindergarten teacher in Brooklyn, hit the Golden Apple level last school year after years of participating in clubs. She is already enjoying the extra bonus points and free books that come with her orders.
“The Golden Apple level was my goal,” Camastro says. “I was like, If I can get it, great! And if not, I’m still putting a lot more books into kids’ hands. I build up the classroom library, kids get books they’re interested in, and parents are paying less than they would if they walked into a store,” Camastro adds. “It benefits everyone.”
Book Clubs by the Numbers
Catalogs sent out to teachers in elementary and middle schools and early childhood centers
Titles in catalogs and online
Free books Book Clubs will give away in 2018–19
Active Book Clubs sponsors (includes teachers and educators in various roles)
Elementary schools across the country that use Scholastic Book Clubs
Photo: Courtesy of Jill Hetsler